GP practices could be rewarded for moving towards a fully electronic referrals system under NHS England plans.
NHS England today announced it was investing £55m to reward CCGs for phasing out referrals made through second class post.
The money would be used to ‘support GPs and hospitals to adopt the practice of electronic referrals’, it said.
The funding is being made available through the ‘Quality Premium’, which rewards CCGs for improvements in the quality of services.
In 2018, NHS England will also consult on whether the requirement to complete and process referrals electronically becomes a contractual condition for commissioners and hospitals.
NHS England said that the new plans ‘call time on the practice of referring patients to hospital by second class post’.
Currently, half of patients referred for secondary care appointments are referred electronically, but managers plan to increase this to 100% by 2018.
At the moment around 50% of patients are referred for hospital appointments electronically. It is intended this will increase rapidly to 60% by September 2016, 80% by 2017 and 100% by 2018.
NHS England director of digital technology Beverley Bryant said: ‘For a long time our first class healthcare system has been let down by outmoded systems, where patients are referred to hospital by second class post.
‘We have a duty of care that extends beyond providing effective treatments. We must also provide an effective patient experience that ensures patients feel reassured at a time when they are most vulnerable.’